Cunningham's injury puts Conley in Cards’ QB competition

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- College football's annual media days are normally a platform for feel good stories and optimism before reality hits (see last year about how Louisville was going to challenge for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship, followed by its disastrous 2-10 season).

Few times is there any "hard news." But U of L's media get together Saturday afternoon was an exception because coach Scott Satterfield revealed that quarterback Malik Cunningham had suffered an injury that would throw him behind leader Jawon Pass and elevate freshman Evan Conley into a more substantial role.

Satterfield said Cunningham, a dual-threat option at QB, injured his knee in Tuesday's practice and did not play in Saturday's initial scrimmage of fall camp.

Satterfield described the injury as a “tweaked” knee. He didn't give a timetable for Cunningham’s return, but said the team isn’t going to rush him back onto the field.

“He will be back soon, hopefully,” the coach said. “He’s going to be in the mix. He’s too dynamic of a player to be standing on the sideline with me.”

Cunningham, who was on crutches for media day and described his knee as "very sore," called it a "freak accident" that occurred when a defensive player hit the back of his knee.

“God makes no mistakes,” Cunningham said. “It sucks that I got injured, but I can’t dwell on it or get down on myself. I can only stay positive, and I can’t let my teammates see me down because then they will think they can be down. We have to keep this thing going.”

Satterfield said Conley, a Georgia native, is now getting most of Cunningham’s practice reps. Conley has been on campus since January and is a former commitment to Appalachian State, the only one Satterfield converted from his recruiting class for the Mountaineers.

“I told him, he has to step up now that I’m not at practice,” Cunningham said. “He has to do more. He’s not a freshman any more, You have to come out of that nest and be ready.”

Satterfield said Conley opened Saturday’s scrimmage with a 30-yard completion, and noted that it was an indication of his potential.

“Those are the type of things he can do. He is coming along,” Satterfield said. "He made some great plays, but he also had some that weren’t very great, which I would expect for a true freshman. If he had just gotten on campus, he’d be way further back than he is right now. He threw some very pretty balls today.”

Satterfield said that Conley isn't the only quarterback who has had an inconsistent day in early practices.

“Looking back on all the years, the first (scrimmage) is always the hardest and toughest one,” said Satterfield, who ran the Cardinals through more than 140 plays in the scrimmage.

Satterfield said that even Pass, who along with Cunningham got extensive experience last season, had a few balls that got away from him.

“I feel like I did a lot of things well, but there were some things I could’ve done better,” Pass said. “Overall it was a good scrimmage.”

When Cunningham returns from his injury, Satterfield said he expects him to still be in contention for the starting position --"we have some good competition there" -- and he will get no argument on that point from Cunningham.

“I can only control what I can control,” Cunningham said. “Me not being out there is a big factor going into the first game, but I know what I have to do to get ready.”

Cunningham started three games last season and played in 10. He relieved Pass and finished the only two games that Louisville won - home games against Indiana State and Western Kentucky. Cunningham completed 40 of 67 passes for 473 yards and one touchdown and led the Cardinals with 497 yards rushing and five TDs.

“Last year, even though I don’t want to talk about it, was very difficult,” he said during spring practice. “It was just hard on us but good teams go through hard times and it’s all a matter of how hard you work to bounce back next year.”

Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at 0926.russ.brown@gmail.com.

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